I wish to compliment the hon. member for Vancouver South (Mr. Green) upon his vigorous plea on behalf of the unemployed veterans, and I associate myself heartily with his words. For three years we have urged that definite steps be taken by the government to assume a larger measure of responsibility with respect to the unemployment needs of the Canadian veterans who are destitute. Our plea for the ex-service men in these three sessions has been based on the reports of two commissions which investigated the problem thoroughly, and
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which were appointed by two different administrations. The reports of these commissions revealed the pressing and tragic nature of the problem. Of that there can be no dispute. Both these commissions made admirable attempts, in my opinion, to formulate constructive proposals which might meet the situation.
Coupled with the representations of these two commissions has been the cooperative endeavour of the organizations of ex-service men, which patiently and quietly have placed evidence before the government in recent years with respect to aspects of the unemployment problem which have caused them grave concern. It must be said to their credit that their representations have been reasonable as well as convincing. It is an open secret that conference after conference has been held to pave the way towards a satisfactory solution of this vexatious question. Until recent weeks there was a general expectation that the government would make some attempt to ameliorate the existing distress amongst unemployed veterans. The minister has introduced other measures which have proved of great benefit, and for these I desire to give him full credit. But in addition there has been an almost pathetic confidence that in this particular he would round out the departmental program and deal with the most vital problem confronting veterans to-day.
The minister's statement to-night rejecting any acceptance of responsibility in this matter, and as communicated to the veterans only a few weeks ago, has caused general dismay and even alarm. I have had abundant evidence in letters and telegrams I have received in recent weeks that there has been indeed more than dismay and alarm. In these letters and telegrams there has been a note of indignant protest that no action has been taken by the government to implement the main recommendations of the veterans' assistance commission as well as of the Hyndman committee. In this respect the government has brushed aside, as it were, the earnest and reasoned plea advanced on behalf of the men in urgent need. From my knowledge of conditions in Canada to-day I am bound to join in this protest. I am convinced that if the government so desired it could have taken steps in the direction indicated by the veterans' assistance commission which would have relieved the situation without placing too great a burden on the national treasury.
I submit that the situation presents a problem which can be dealt with only by the federal government.
It has been reliably estimated from reports which have reached me that there are over twelve thousand veterans with meritorious service to their credit who are at present unemployed and on relief, including those in both urban and rural districts. We know, as a result of an estimate based on a special registration that the Rattray commission found that at least ten thousand veterans were in this category. This is in addition to the five thousand which were provided for by last year's amendment to the War Veterans' Allowance Act.
I would point out that the unemployment problems of the veterans have been greatly aggravated in consequence of the services which they rendered to the country. They now average fifty years of age and find it increasing!}' difficult to compete in the general labour market. They are not now regarded as eligible for the war veterans' allowance, or pension with unemployment assistance from the federal department. A special effort on the part of the federal government might even now place many of these men in employment for which they are adapted. Direct and temporary aid is an essential requirement in order to carry [DOT] through any general plan of rehabilitation.
Two commissions have advanced cogent reasons why this problem is the special responsibility of the federal government, and as the hon. member for Vancouver South said, their reports were made after evidence had been heard from all parts of Canada, and had been carefully analysed, and all proposals and suggestions carefully appraised.
The enactment of the Veterans' Assistance Commission Act laid the foundation for a national enterprise which, by relating various forms of assistance, might have brought us within striking distance of a final solution of the problem of the veterans. Honorary committees of representative business men were enlisted in the scheme in order that the full cooperation of employing interests might be obtained. The commission has now been
discharged and its report has been shelved. The whole scheme is being allowed to fall to pieces because of the unwillingness of the federal government to assume responsibilities that properly rest upon it. The unemployed veteran is faced with the bitter realization that the government is not interested, and as a matter of fact never was interested, in his unemployment needs. The issue is not whether this or that proposal is satisfactory
to the government. The issue is whether the federal government should accept in whole or in part any further responsibility with
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regard to the unemployed needs of the veterans now rated as fit and therefore not eligible for benefits under existing legislation.
Two commissions have said that in the national interests this responsibility should be assumed by the federal government at least in part on a temporary basis. But on one pretext or another these representations have been flatly rejected because the government will not admit that the federal government has any further responsibility in the matter. The practical result is that thousands of veterans are thereby condemned to a hopeless destitution until they are so broken down that ultimately there is no alternative to making them recipients for the rest of their days of the war veterans' allowance. No steps are being taken now to alleviate their distressing condition, and I urge that action be taken by this federal government before it is too late to seize the opportunity of rehabilitating these men.
I believe, as does the hon. member for Vancouver South, that our veterans, particularly the front line men, are deserving of better treatment. They have recently given a remarkable demonstration of their loyalty and devotion to the national interests. The nationwide response to the veterans' survey, which was welcomed by the government, has revealed their readiness to serve their country again. The spirit and discipline shown by ex-service men not only recently but during the depression have been exemplary and have earned commendation on all sides. Their offer of service was freely tendered, without any suggestion of bargaining. Through all these years all they have asked on their own behalf is the opportunity to make a decent living. There is abundant evidence in almost every community that a large percentage of them are without that opportunity to-day, and will never gain any such opportunity except through action by the federal government.
A distressing situation has existed in all our principal cities in recent months, during which the hostels and billets maintained by charitable organizations were taxed to their utmost capacity to shelter ex-service men. It has been particularly distressing to note that the transient unemployed have included a large number of our ex-service men. It is particularly heart-breaking that during recent ceremonial parades many veterans were reluctant to participate because they felt keenly about their shabby appearance. Certainly it is true, as I found by mixing with them during recent days, that many more than the general public realized are on relief and under a distinct handicap in showing their loyalty at this time. I submit that
the government could make no better investment than by generous action which would maintain the morale of Canada's ex-service men. That morale can easily be destroyed by the evidence that men who have served and are still willing to serve are left in misery and want. Such a situation is a national disgrace. One aspect of it has been stated in admirable language in an appeal published by the Canadian Legion in the Vancouver press. It is headed, "Canadian legion appeals for justice." They felt it necessary to bring their case to the attention of the public, and I think it states the case so well that I am justified in detaining the committee while I read this statement:
Canada has done much for her veterans, but Canada has not yet completely acknowledged the obligation accepted by Sir Robert Borden, war-time premier of the dominion, on behalf of our people, nor has Canada fulfilled the promises made in an address given by Sir Robert to the troops in France in the year 1917. We quote from that memorable speech:
"You are men actually facing the enemy day and night. You are suffering greatly from fatigue, over-strain, and lack of rest. The marvel of it is that men could undergo such a strain without breaking; but you have never yet broken, and history will appreciate that in days to come.
"You men are about to enter one of the most serious engagements that ever faced the Canadian corps. I can not, at this moment, give any information as to where this attack will be staged. Whether it be successful or not, it is to be borne in mind that it will not be an easy success. . . . AVe feel confident that you will succeed where others failed; for you have never yet failed in anything you have set your hand to, as a Canadian corps.
"You can go into this action feeling assured of this, and as the head of the government, I give you this assurance: that you need have no fear that the government and the country will fail to show just appreciation of your service to the country and empire in what you are about to do and what you have already done.
"The government and the country will consider it their first duty to see that a proper appreciation of your effort and of your courage is brought to the notice of the people at home, and it will always be our endeavour to so guide the attitude of public opinion, that the country will support the government to prove to the returned man its just and due appreciation of the inestimable value of the services rendered to the country and empire, and that no man, whether he goes back or remains in Flanders, will have just cause to reproach the government for having broken with the men who won and the men who died."
The fact is that there are some thousands of ex-service men who served in a theatre of actual war, some with dependents and some without, who are on the verge of destitution, and have been in that position for a year or two.
For a number of years the Canadian Legion and other veteran organizations have been active in directing the attention of the government to the unfortunate plight of these men.
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In March, 1935, the legion's representations were given attention by the R. B. Bennett government, and the Hyndman committee was appointed to carry out an investigation into existing facilities for the care and maintenance, while unemployed, of ex-service men.
In a report dated May 23rd, 1935, the committee recommended that the dominion government should assist in payment of relief assistance to the unemployed veteran. The recommendation was not accepted by the government.
As unemployment conditions had not improved, the Canadian Legion approached the Mackenzie King government in regard to the problem, and on June 23rd, 1936, the Veterans' Assistance Act was assented to, and a commission of three appointed to investigate the situation.
The veterans' assistance commission spent about eighteen months investigating the existing facilities for the care and maintenance of unemployed veterans, and in the course of its duties travelled Canada from coast to coast.
The commission, in referring to the claim of the veteran to special privileges, said:
"We feel that the veteran has a valid claim to special privileges. Not only is the dominion government under a heavy debt of obligation to the veteran because of his response to Canada's call in her hour of greatest need, but there has been repeated recognition of that obligation. We have already urged that the obligation is not merely sentimental, but contractual. We feel, as we are confident the country at large feels, that no matter what Canada has done to requite the services of her veterans, her obligation to them is not discharged while one of them walks the streets vainly in search of work, or while one of them is in distress. Canada has a general obligation to all her citizens to provide them with work and to keep them from actual want. Canada has a special obligation to her veterans."
The conditions that the commission found amongst unemployed ex-service men and their dependents in Canada, amply corroborated the views as expressed in the Hyndman committee report of May, 1935, and the veterans' assistance commission in its final report dated December 1st, 1937, made the following recommendation concerning employable or supposed to be employable ex-service men:
"That in the case of unemployed indigent veterans who are not in receipt of disability pension and who served in his majesty's forces in a theatre of actual war and were domiciled in Canada at time of enlistment, unemployed assistance in the form of a provisional economic allowance be granted during such time as they are unemployed, through the Department of Pensions and National Health."
The Canadian Legion feels that a man who answered his country's call and saw service should be entitled, as of right, to remunerative employment, and failing such employment, to adequate maintenance, providing he has the will to work.
The legion through its membership has exercised a steadying influence in Canada throughout the years of depression, and we have reason to expect that recommendations of the veterans' assistance commission, as endorsed by the legion, should receive kindly consideration from the Mackenzie King government.
We are not forgetful of the attention given to some of our requests by governments of [Mr. MacNeil.l
Canada, but we have in mind that Canada carried out its promises as contained in victory bonds to investors during the great war, and we therefore believe that it is quite fair and just that we now ask the present government to honour the promises made on the battlefields of Europe by one of Canada's distinguished men-the late Sir Robert Borden.
We believe that the people of this dominion agree with us that there should be no repudiation in this regard.
Published by authority of the British Columbia provincial executive council, Canadian Legion of the British Empire Service League.
president, Robt. MacNieol,
I agree with the conclusions expressed in this appeal to the general public.
But there are, in my opinion, otiher important reasons why unemployment among veterans has a special claim on the federal government. In the majority of cases of which I have had experience, service was definitely a contributing factor to their present distress. The average veteran lost time while on active service. He lost educational advantages. He was uprooted from his moorings industrially. He probably lost the advantage of technical training. He experienced extraordinary difficulty in securing a foothold in the national enterprises on his return from service. Many of them had not become firmly entrenched in industry when the depression overtook this country, and they were therefore placed at a special disadvantage during the depression. There is now, as pointed out by the Rattray commission, a residual number of somewhere between ten and twelve thousand who are still under that special handicap.
Usually, although these men are described as being fit, there is some degree of incapacity related indefinitely to service. That has been my experience, and that fact is mentioned repeatedly in correspondence which is directed to me. I think that is clear as we analyse the statistics recently made public by the war veterans' allowance board. I understand that when the new amendment was finally made operative they were deluged with applications. From April 1, 1938, to December 31, 1938, some 12,793 applications were received in Ottawa. As of December 31, 1938, the board disposed of 10,000, of wihich 5,550 applications were approved. I understand there are some still outstanding, but I think it must be admitted that while it is not possible to prove that in many of these cases which were rejected the men were incapable of maintaining themselves through economic handicaps combined with physical or mental disability,
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nevertheless they were pre-aged, there was some degree of incapacity, some contributing factor consequent upon service, which has placed them at a special disadvantage in seeking employment. In addition to that, there is the fact that they are now of the average age of fifty years, an age when their absorption into industry is becoming increasingly difficult. As a matter of fact there is no form of economic recovery in this country which would now provide for their absorption into industry on anything like a permanent basis without a special dominion effort. These I think, are important reasons why the federal government should assume some additional responsibility.
In the Rattray report an important point was made, of which no official cognizance has been taken. I think it should be repeated here now. There is no constitutional barrier which prevents the federal government from taking definite action in this respect. The Rattray commission reviewed social legislation generally in Canada and referred to the difficulties arising from a conflict between dominion and provincial jurisdictions. They had this to say:
The typical veteran wants no special privileges. He was glad to serve his country. He asks no reward for services. We think that we express the feelings of the vast majority of our fellow ex-service men when we say that the veteran resents bitterly having to come cap in hand to the government for benefits that should be within the reach of every citizen of the country. In pleading for social legislation the veteran pleads for legislation that will reach all classes.
But unhappily far-reaching social legislation is not within the power of the dominion government. The veterans' assistance commission is hopeful that, as a result of deliberations of the royal commission on the relations between the provinces and the dominion, there will come a formula for amending the constitution in such a way as to make constitutional a program of legislation that will include unemployment insurance, health insurance, and a revision of the old age pension laws. The veteran, however, cannot wait for legislation of that type.
They go on to say that the veterans as a group present no constitutional difficulty with respect to action dealing with unemployment needs. The federal government could, in my opinion, assume this responsibility, and in doing so, would meet with the general approval of the Canadian public and would not precipitate any serious difficulty with regard to dominion-provincial relations. As a matter of fact I cannot see any great obstacle in the way of a program of general rehabilitation. From time to time the minister has raised objections to a number of recommendations of the Rattray commission. He said it might lead to the establishment in Canada of what
would be the equivalent of a general service pension. That was not contemplated in the recommendation, nor can I see that the recommendation leads to that result. They suggest a temporary economic allowance, and they suggest further that such direct aid should be extended in definite relation to various employment schemes to be conducted under the local honorary committees. There is a distinct difference 'between granting a pension or an allowance merely for service and granting direct aid as a scheme auxiliary to a general program of rehabilitation. I consider direct aid from the federal government an essential requirement of any program of rehabilitation that may ibe initiated by the government at this time, and if the two are related in a common sense way, and if the government will stimulate rather than discourage schemes or projects for sheltered employment or for special employment placement of veterans in industry, there will be no danger of creating the establishment of a general service pension.
Again, the minister said that the veterans themselves were not in agreement as to the details of the scheme. I think the negotiations during recent months have shown that all organized veterans are essentially in agreement on the underlying principle, that is, that the federal government should accept responsibility for this problem; and only by the government's acceptance of such responsibility can the problem achieve solution. Certainly that quibble as to disagreement with regard to the details of the scheme should not be seized upon as a pretext for unwillingness to accept the underlying principle.
If the proposal of the Rattray commission is not acceptable to the government, the onus rests with the government to advance a satisfactory alternative. On several occasions the minister has admitted the existence of the problem. He admitted, and I do not think an attempt is made to deny it, that there is acute distress among this particular group of veterans; but he said that he could not accept these recommendations, and as yet he has not advanced any other alternative. True it is that many have benefited by the enactment of the recent amendment to the War Veterans' Allowance Act, but that still leaves untouched the problem stated by the Rattray commission, which at that time affected 10,000 men with service in a theatre of actual war.
The hon. member for Vancouver South has given all the principal arguments in support of the acceptance of this principle. I will not traverse the same ground, but there is one point which I think should be emphasized. If the government fails to accept responsibility
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in this regard, the only remaining alternative will in the end prove quite as costly. The only alternative left for these veterans is to apply for relief in the municipalities in which they reside. That relief is not usually administered in such a way as to bring them into contact with employment opportunities of which they can satisfactorily avail themselves. As a matter of fact, by reason of their age, and of the general attitude of the municipalities, they are at a special disadvantage at this time in securing employment. Many of them are employable and are willing to work. Many of them, as has been proved by the work of the honorary committees, can be placed in employment if satisfactory or efficient employment placement methods are followed. But if they are left on relief and are allowed to drift along, suffering the deterioration that inevitably follows life on relief; if they are compelled longer to endure these distressing handicaps, they will break down and lose the opportunity for rehabilitation.
My whole argument is based on the idea that if action is taken now, many more men may secure permanent employment and make some provision for their old age or for the future of their families. But if they are left to drift under present circumstances on relief in the municipalities they will ultimately break down and will ultimately have to be taken care of under the provisions of the War Veterans' Allowance Act. That is why I urge that action at this time would be less costly and less wasteful than to leave the problem untouched.
In this connection I wish to put in a word or two on behalf of the imperial ex-service men. Since last discussing this matter in the house, I have had an opportunity of visiting the homes of many of these men in the constituency I represent. I have gained a more intimate knowledge of their circumstances, and I feel more keenly than ever that while the government may not be prepared to assume direct responsibility for their condition, certainly their condition is so tragic that more than ever is it imperative that the government should negotiate with the British authorities on their behalf. They came here hoping to find a land of opportunity. For a while many of them made a most commendable effort to secure a footing in Canada, but now they are disowned by everyone; and among the transients in Canada, those who are trekking back and forth from point to point, unable to obtain any recognition for work or relief, are included many of these imperial ex-service men. I am not suggesting that those without domicile prior
to enlistment should be cared for as a complete responsibility of the dominion government, but there is nevertheless some responsibility on the part of the government, because of the circumstances under which these men came to Canada, to make still more forceful representations to the British government on their behalf with a view to having steps taken to relieve their distress.
These are matters with regard to which we should have a statement from the minister. On a former occasion he said something by way of criticism of veterans' organizations in this regard. I do not think that criticism is well grounded during the present year, because they have not resorted to what may be termed pressure group tactics in regard to this matter; they have relied almost wholly on the careful, well-reasoned presentation of the facts within their knowledge to the government and the presentation of constructive proposals, and have placed themselves entirely in the hands of the government. At this stage I think they have reason for disappointment. So far as the organizations are concerned, it should be stressed that their endeavours in this regard are purely altruistic. I have had the privilege of attending a large number of conventions as well as meetings of ex-service men of various organizations, and I find the men in charge of these organizations are themselves generally in fairly comfortable circumstances. They are concerned solely in rendering service to their less fortunate comrades. That is a spirit of service which should be recognized, commended and encouraged. It is in that spirit of service that the government has been urged by these organizations to take action in this respect. I feel it a privilege to support the representations of the organized veterans on this question.
Topic: DEPARTMENT OF PENSIONS AND NATIONAL HEALTH